the basics Making safe jerky at home: F

Making safe jerky at home:
the basics
ood preservation by drying has been practiced for
centuries. North American Indians dried strips of
meat in the sun or over a fire to make “Ch’arki.”
Modern commercial jerky is made with lean
meat, salt, and seasonings. Traditional jerky is cut
with the grain to produce a tough, stringy product.
Salt functions as a preservative and flavoring agent.
Seasonings usually include one or more kinds of
pepper – most commonly ground black pepper and
crushed or ground red pepper. The seasoned meat
is then cooked, smoked, and dried to produce a
somewhat tough, dry, salty, shelf-stable product not
requiring refrigeration.
Food safety is a concern in making jerky. Several
food-borne disease outbreaks since the mid1990s have identified jerky as the cause. The most
common pathogens identified are salmonellae and
Escherichia coli O157:H7. The trichinae parasite has
Keeping game meat clean and cooling it as quickly as
possible to less than 40°F will help minimize the initial
microbial load of the meat. The hunter who harvested
this animal followed good practices (quartering,
bagging, hanging in a cool place with adequate air
circulation) to ensure high-quality meat from a young
bull elk.
been identified in Idaho cougar jerky. Meat sources
include domestic and wild game species, and
outbreaks have occurred from consuming both
commercially and home-processed jerky products.
A series of events must occur for jerky to cause
a food-borne outbreak. First, the meat source must
be contaminated with a pathogenic organism;
second, the meat product is usually treated in
a manner that promotes bacterial growth; and
third, the product is consumed by a susceptible
individual. Investigations reveal many jerky recipes
don’t heat meat hot enough to kill pathogens
present on raw meat. Simply drying meat is not
sufficient to kill pathogens.
Food Microbiology and Jerky Products
Several food microbiology principles can be
applied to the jerky-making process to ensure
a safe product. The first, and one of the most
important principles, is to follow good sanitary
practices. This includes using clean and sanitized
utensils and other equipment and practicing good
personal hygiene.
Additional principles include using fresh,
wholesome meat that has been processed in a
sanitary manner. This will ensure a low initial load
of bacteria. Salt functions as an antimicrobial
ingredient in foods such as dried meat, but some
people try to decrease the saltiness of their jerky
by using less salt in the recipe. This is dangerous
because a minimum level of salt is necessary to
inhibit microbial growth during the drying process.
A lower pH, or increased acidity, is also
effective. Do not eliminate the acidic ingredient
from jerky recipes because the product will not
have similar antimicrobial properties. Some jerky
recipes call for various food-grade acids such as
vinegar (acetic acid), citric acid (common acid in
citrus fruits), or ascorbic acid (vitamin C).
Finally, cooking temperatures are an effective
method to kill pathogenic bacteria. A temperature
of 160 degrees Fahrenheit is recommended. For
product quality, heating raw meat to 160 degrees
F is generally better before drying at a decreased
temperature. Placing a calibrated meat thermometer
between two slices of jerky can more accurately
measure average product temperature.
Making Safe Jerky at Home
Important safety guidelines
1. Wash hands often and thoroughly when
handling meat, especially after handling raw
meat. Hands should be in contact with warm,
soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
2. Do not cross-contaminate properly heated
and dried meat with raw meat or unclean
utensils. Keep raw meat, cutting surfaces,
and equipment that have touched raw meat
separate from dried meat, other ready-toeat foods, and other work surfaces and
3. Sanitize cutting surfaces and equipment
such as tongs, knives, and drying racks
with a solution of 2 tablespoons of chlorine
bleach in one gallon of water. Sanitize
before and after use.
4. Use an approved or tested recipe. See
recipe #1 and #2.
Jerky Drying
Use a calibrated thermometer to monitor
the circulating air temperature of the
dehydrator or oven. Preheat the dehydrator
or oven to 145° F for 15 to 30 minutes.
Using clean tongs, arrange meat strips in
single layers on the drying trays without
touching each other. Place the filled trays in
the preheated dehydrator leaving enough
open space on the racks for air to circulate
around the strips. Let the strips dry for
10 to 14 hours or until the pieces are
adequately dry. Test for dryness. Properly
dried jerky is chewy and leathery. It will
Recipe #1: Ho
t Pickle Cure
Jerky *
Use fresh lean
meat free of fa
t and connectiv
tissue. Yield: Fi
ve pounds of fre
sh meat
should weigh ap
proximately 2 po
unds after
drying or smok
1. Slice 5 poun
ds of meat into
strips with the
grain, not crossw
Spread meat an
d sprinkle on 3
tablespoons sa
lt, 2 teaspoons
ground black pe
and 2 tablespo
ons sugar. Plac
e the meat in a
and place in re
pan or dish,
frigerator 24 ho
2. Pound the
meat on both si
des to work in
Optional: Dip st
the spice.
rips of meat in
a liquid smoke
parts water to
solution (5
1 part liquid sm
oke) for one to
for added flavo
two seconds
3. Make a brin
e solution by di
ssolving 3/4 cu
sugar, and 2 ta
p salt, 1/2 cup
blespoons grou
nd black pepper
of water. Stir to
in one gallon
dissolve the sa
lt and sugar.
4. Bring the br
ine to a low to
medium boil. Im
meat strips (a fe
merse the fresh
w at a time) into
the boiling brin
turn gray (appro
e until they
ximately one to
two minutes). Re
from brine usin
move meat
g clean tongs or
other utensils th
contacted raw
at have not
5. Spread mea
t on a clean de
hydrator rack or
the top half of
on a clean rack
a kitchen oven.
If using a kitche
the oven door to
n oven, open
the first or seco
nd stop to allow
to escape. Heat
at 150°F to 200
°F for nine to 2
until desired dr
4 hours or
yness is reache
d. Remove jerk
before becomin
y from oven
g too hard or br
ittle. Properly dr
should crack w
ied jerky
hen bent in half
but should not
two pieces.
break into
6. Store in cle
an jars or plastic
bags or wrap in
freeze. Properly
freezer paper an
dried jerky will ke
ep for approxim
weeks in a seale
ately two
d container at ro
om temperature
for 3 to 6 month
. It will keep
s in the refrigera
tor and up to on
freezer. Check oc
e year in the
casionally to be
sure no mold is
*Source of re
cipe: You and Yo
ur Wild Game,
and C.A. Raab,
1984, by R.A. Fie
University of W
yoming Agricult
B-613, p. 58. Co
ural Extension
pies may be ob
tained on the W
eb at www.uw
/Jerky.htm or by
e-mailing the Co
Resource Cent
llege of Agricult
er at [email protected]
ure’s, calling
2115, or writing
the center at (3
to the University
07) 766of Wyoming, Co
Department 33
llege of Agricult
13, 1000 E. Un
iversity Ave., La
ramie, WY 8207
winter 2 0 0 7 bend like a green stick but won’t snap like a dry stick.
To test for dryness, remove a strip of jerky from the
oven or dehydrator. Let cool slightly then bend the
jerky; it should crack but not break when bent. When
jerky is sufficiently dry, remove the strips from the
drying racks to a clean surface. Pat off any beads of
oil with absorbent paper towel, and let cool.
Proper placement of raw meat strips in a food dehydrator is
important for good air flow and efficient drying. Individual jerky
pieces should not touch or be stacked.
Place cooled jerky strips in an airtight plastic food
bag or jar with a tight-fitting lid. Pack jerky with the
least possible amount of air trapped in the container.
Too much air causes off-flavors and rancidity. Label
and date packages. Store jerky in a cool, dry, dark
place or the refrigerator or freezer. Properly dried jerky
will keep for approximately two weeks in a sealed
container at room temperature. It will keep for 3 to
6 months in the refrigerator and up to one year in
the freezer. Check occasionally to be sure no mold is
Recipe #2: Vinegar-Marinade Preparation Method **
Ingredients per 2 pounds of lean meat slices:
Pre-treatment dip:
2 cups vinegar
Marinade ingredients:
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon hickory smoked salt
Place 2 cups vinegar in 9×11-inch cake pan or plastic storage container. Add meat strips to container making
sure vinegar covers all strips. Let soak 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure distribution of vinegar on strips.
Combine all marinade ingredients and place in a 1-gallon resealable plastic bag. Add lean meat slices to bag; seal
bag and massage pieces to thoroughly distribute marinade over all meat strips. Refrigerate bag 1 to 24 hours.
Remove meat slices from bag, and place flat without touching each other on clean dehydrator trays, oven racks,
or other drying trays. Place trays in preheated dehydrator, and dry at 145º F for 10 to 14 hours or until slices are
adequately dry.
**Source of recipe: Leathers and Jerkies, CSU Bulletin 9.311; P. Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Colorado State University (CSU) Cooperative
Extension food science and human nutrition specialist and professor, food science and human nutrition; J. Sofos, Ph.D., CSU
professor, animal sciences. March 2003 and updated July 2006. Available at
Warrie Means is a University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service (UW CES) meats specialist and
an associate professor in the College of Agriculture’s Department of Animal Science. He can be reached at
(307) 766-5283 or [email protected] Suzy Pelican is a faculty member of the Department of Family and
Consumer Sciences and is a food and nutrition specialist with the UW CES. She can be reached at (307) 7665177 or [email protected]
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